2017 Congressional 'App" contest winners.

Thread Starter

Raymond Genovese

Joined Mar 5, 2016
1,658
http://www.congressionalappchallenge.us/


I had not heard about this contest at all.

I am a big supporter of STEM competitions. If only we had half as many of these as traditional physical competitions (sports).

Yet, somehow, this one kind of gives me a creepy feeling. Maybe it is because of association with politics because I may be hyper-generalizing anything to do with politics. Alternatively, it may be because of the idea of competitive based on ‘App’ creation…anything but ‘Apps’. :)
 

wayneh

Joined Sep 9, 2010
17,153
Yet, somehow, this one kind of gives me a creepy feeling.
Maybe it's this, from the Judges instructions.
''...we entrust our judges with the responsibility of evaluating submissions as compared to those submitted by their peers, rather than according to a strict, one-size-fits-all rubric."
In other words, we're going to apply feel-good measures to choose the winners instead of clear rules. No thanks. I had enough of that in grade school.
 

Thread Starter

Raymond Genovese

Joined Mar 5, 2016
1,658
Maybe it's this, from the Judges instructions.
''...we entrust our judges with the responsibility of evaluating submissions as compared to those submitted by their peers, rather than according to a strict, one-size-fits-all rubric."
In other words, we're going to apply feel-good measures to choose the winners instead of clear rules. No thanks. I had enough of that in grade school.
Heh, I had not even noticed that. I wonder whose brain child this was.
 

Thread Starter

Raymond Genovese

Joined Mar 5, 2016
1,658
It wouldn't surprise me if the likes of Apple, Google or Microsoft are in the background to fund and encourage something like this. Nothing wrong with that, on the surface. Or maybe the NSA. ;)
The list (or a partial list) of sponsors is there, but somebody had to drive this thing. I may exist in a vacuum, but I don't think it was well publicized. Maybe I will complain to my Congressman - claim I was on the verge of a revolutionary new App that was certain to be a winner, if only I had heard about the contest...then again, I have been out of high school for a tad and could be disqualified....Age Discrimination!!
 

JoeJester

Joined Apr 26, 2005
4,390
There will be 535 winners...one for each senator and representative. So, if only one submits from a Congressional district .... We have a winner.
 

WBahn

Joined Mar 31, 2012
26,398
I don't have objections to a contest for "app" development, but I'm not a fan of any of this kind of stuff coming out of Congress (or just about any other political subdivision). That's not based on principle against government sponsoring such things -- in principle I don't have any huge objections -- but rather the fact that every level of government is either running huge deficits or constantly going to the taxpayers requesting tax increases claiming that it is needed for high priority things like the military or police and fire or roads and infrastructure. Yet those same government divisions never seem to have problems funding things like this.

I've always lived by the rule that if you don't have money to do everything you need/want you prioritize your spending and take care of the highest priority things first, then you try to find ways to fund the lower priority things and, if you can't, then they don't get done. So what the government is saying is that this app competition is a higher priority than anything else they are claiming they lack funds for, because they have chosen to fund it rather than those other things.

Now, having said that, IF the funding for this is coming entirely from non-public funds and the government involvement basically amounts to providing prestige, then I'm not going to complain.
 

Thread Starter

Raymond Genovese

Joined Mar 5, 2016
1,658
I don't have objections to a contest for "app" development, but I'm not a fan of any of this kind of stuff coming out of Congress (or just about any other political subdivision). That's not based on principle against government sponsoring such things -- in principle I don't have any huge objections -- but rather the fact that every level of government is either running huge deficits or constantly going to the taxpayers requesting tax increases claiming that it is needed for high priority things like the military or police and fire or roads and infrastructure. Yet those same government divisions never seem to have problems funding things like this.

I've always lived by the rule that if you don't have money to do everything you need/want you prioritize your spending and take care of the highest priority things first, then you try to find ways to fund the lower priority things and, if you can't, then they don't get done. So what the government is saying is that this app competition is a higher priority than anything else they are claiming they lack funds for, because they have chosen to fund it rather than those other things.

Now, having said that, IF the funding for this is coming entirely from non-public funds and the government involvement basically amounts to providing prestige, then I'm not going to complain.
I don't know exactly where the funding is coming from, but you hit upon some valid points.

That being said, I think that therr are exceptions and the one that comes to mind quickly is DARPA. They have, in the past been behind some truly advancement pushing endeavors such as the autonomous vehicle challenge.

My earliest memories of science were around the great Westinghouse Science Fair and that, I guess, became the Intel Science Fair and I really don't know where it is at now. I have been a judge (local) at science fairs maybe a dozen times. IMO we need all the help we can get.

Typically, the US Gov has some role in these. After all, we do have a public schooling system, and that is where these efforts need to begin. To have somewhere to go with them, yeah, I can see that need for sure. Are you old enough to remember the President physical fitness effort?

That being said, as I posted initially, there is just something disingenuous about this one - maybe more lame than disingenuous. But, all in all, I guess I would rather see it than not see it.
 

WBahn

Joined Mar 31, 2012
26,398
I don't know exactly where the funding is coming from, but you hit upon some valid points.

That being said, I think that therr are exceptions and the one that comes to mind quickly is DARPA. They have, in the past been behind some truly advancement pushing endeavors such as the autonomous vehicle challenge.

My earliest memories of science were around the great Westinghouse Science Fair and that, I guess, became the Intel Science Fair and I really don't know where it is at now. I have been a judge (local) at science fairs maybe a dozen times. IMO we need all the help we can get.

Typically, the US Gov has some role in these. After all, we do have a public schooling system, and that is where these efforts need to begin. To have somewhere to go with them, yeah, I can see that need for sure. Are you old enough to remember the President physical fitness effort?

That being said, as I posted initially, there is just something disingenuous about this one - maybe more lame than disingenuous. But, all in all, I guess I would rather see it than not see it.
I see one of our biggest problems being that everyone (myself included) is more than willing and able to point to things that are exceptions and should be funded whether we have the money or not. In my opinion, THAT is the mentality that we HAVE to break out of. We have so much money coming in. That should be a pretty hard cap on how much money we can spend and we should have to make the hard choices and prioritize what does and what doesn't get done.

As it is, there is no way to tell what we are spending actual revenue on and what we are borrowing money for, because it all comes out of the same pot. So the politicians are free to tell us how we need to borrow money or raise taxes for things that are widely agreed as being high priority, core functions of government while relying on the fact that few people will notice that the reason they don't have the money for that is because they chose to spend it on things that most people would not have characterized as either high priority or core functions.

We could change that if we adopted a priority-based budgeting model in which actual revenue was assigned to a small number of priority bands, say 50% of last year's revenue is Priority 1, 30% of last year's revenue is Priority 2, and 20% is Priority 3. After that, you go in 5% increments. Then all of your appropriations have to draw from those pools. A given department gets so much Priority 1 money, so much Priority 2 money, and so forth. Congress can further assign priority levels to different spending categories. So, for instance, fleet maintenance gets so much Priority 1 money, so much Priority 2 money, and so forth. In general, the department can spend lower priority money on higher priority items, but not the other way around without Congressional approval.

Congress must approve each priority level separately, with a simple majority required for priority levels 1 through 3 and increasing supermajority levels required for each additional level of spending, perhaps simply equal to the amount over last year's revenue that priority level takes us. So Priority Level 4 requires 55% while Priority Level #13 (and higher) requires 100%. This just makes sense -- if we are going to borrow money, should it require increasingly stronger agreement and consensus the more that we borrow?

The president, after approving the budget as a whole, the has the ability to release funds one level at a time, but can't release a lower priority level unless all higher priority levels have been released. That way the president can't change Congress' prioritizations. Congress can force the release of funds by a vote which is 2/3 plus the same fraction as above (capped, naturally, at 100%).

There should be NOTHING in the budget that is not assigned a priority level -- this whole notion of "automatic" spending authorizations that Congress has put so much of our spending on is a complete abdication of their responsibilities.

Congress can wheel and deal all they want, but at the end of the day they have to defend why they put new flowers around the Capitol as a higher priority that upgrading physical security at our nuclear weapons facilities. It may well be that such choices are defensible -- perhaps the flowers around the capital were killed by a late frost and without replacement soil erosion might compromise the foundation, plus it IS a tourist attraction that brings tourist dollars into the D.C. economy, while the present physical security systems are considered adequate and the upgrades are future-looking enhancements that offer primarily efficiency improvement -- that's fine, but let the legislators do their job and defend their choices. This will force them to MAKE choices that ARE defensible to the American people.
 

JoeJester

Joined Apr 26, 2005
4,390
@WBahn

Not to nitpick but you had three categories that totaled 100 percent. That wasn't the genesis of this response, just a note.

One problem we have is the "use it or lose it" attitude when it comes to "saving" monies from one fiscal year to the next. Sure Congress appropriates the money for the agencies to spend and at times, Congress over appropriates and then let's the agency know they are watching to ensure their constituents get all the cash. A not so veiled earmark.

Don't get me wrong, I managed to get a 20k piece of test equipment because of another division had "funds" they needed to spend by the end of the fiscal year. In my last position, I did transfer 10k to another unit that purchased a couple of spare PA tubes with the funds. I've heard from another veteran, not in my service, that their shop, threw away parts so they could spend all their funds. At times I thought that was a sea story and other times, it rang true. The scale is closer to true than a sea story.

A simple act of carrying over from year to year could yield tremendous savings, but the "use it or lose it" philosophy keeps the agencies free spending to ensure they receive the equivalent funding the next year, plus a COLA.
 

WBahn

Joined Mar 31, 2012
26,398
Not to nitpick but you had three categories that totaled 100 percent. That wasn't the genesis of this response, just a note.
Yes, the first three categories add to 100% of the prior year's revenue. But I'm not limiting spending to that level. Congress can keep putting things in the budget as long as they want, but they have to be put into 5% bins. So the 4th category will likely be covered by normal growth in revenue, at least mostly. All other bins represent deficit spending, with higher numbered bins representing higher deficits and hence requiring greater supermajorities to incorporate into the budget.

One problem we have is the "use it or lose it" attitude when it comes to "saving" monies from one fiscal year to the next. Sure Congress appropriates the money for the agencies to spend and at times, Congress over appropriates and then let's the agency know they are watching to ensure their constituents get all the cash. A not so veiled earmark.

Don't get me wrong, I managed to get a 20k piece of test equipment because of another division had "funds" they needed to spend by the end of the fiscal year. In my last position, I did transfer 10k to another unit that purchased a couple of spare PA tubes with the funds. I've heard from another veteran, not in my service, that their shop, threw away parts so they could spend all their funds. At times I thought that was a sea story and other times, it rang true. The scale is closer to true than a sea story.

A simple act of carrying over from year to year could yield tremendous savings, but the "use it or lose it" philosophy keeps the agencies free spending to ensure they receive the equivalent funding the next year, plus a COLA.
What I'm suggesting would already represent a complete overhaul of how this is done, so the "use it or lose it" mentality would have to go away and the only way it can go away is by tying desired behavior to rewards in the policy.

This is not an easy problem -- I fully admit that. You want agencies to NOT go out of their way to spend money they don't need, but if they don't need it, then they probably don't need as large a budget next year, but no agency wants its budget reduced. One way that we might put an appropriate feedback mechanism into place (that actually uses a couple of mechanisms) is to say any funds not spent are handled as follows (percentages are just thrown out -- actual percentages would need to be determined by Congress): Your baseline budget for the following year is reduced by 80% of the unspent funds. However, 40% of the unspent funds are added to your final budget for the following year and are promoted one priority level. In addition, the 40% is converted to a bonus distributed to all of the employees of the agency proportionately. If your agency returns 10% of its budget, then everyone in the agency gets a 4% bonus at the end of the fiscal year.

The idea here is that people at all levels benefit from being conscientious. I don't have a problem if the bonuses are scaled so that rank-and-file get higher percentage bonuses than upper management, but I also want upper management to get very meaningful bonuses since they are the ones in a position to establish policy and culture that encourages frugality. Perhaps some fraction is split per capita and the remainder is split per salary.

Also, an agency can't game the system to get huge bonuses every year, because the price of a big bonus is a big reduction in budget the following year and an even bigger reduction in your baseline budget.
 

Thread Starter

Raymond Genovese

Joined Mar 5, 2016
1,658
Yes, the first three categories add to 100% of the prior year's revenue. But I'm not limiting spending to that level. Congress can keep putting things in the budget as long as they want, but they have to be put into 5% bins. So the 4th category will likely be covered by normal growth in revenue, at least mostly. All other bins represent deficit spending, with higher numbered bins representing higher deficits and hence requiring greater supermajorities to incorporate into the budget.



What I'm suggesting would already represent a complete overhaul of how this is done, so the "use it or lose it" mentality would have to go away and the only way it can go away is by tying desired behavior to rewards in the policy.

This is not an easy problem -- I fully admit that. You want agencies to NOT go out of their way to spend money they don't need, but if they don't need it, then they probably don't need as large a budget next year, but no agency wants its budget reduced. One way that we might put an appropriate feedback mechanism into place (that actually uses a couple of mechanisms) is to say any funds not spent are handled as follows (percentages are just thrown out -- actual percentages would need to be determined by Congress): Your baseline budget for the following year is reduced by 80% of the unspent funds. However, 40% of the unspent funds are added to your final budget for the following year and are promoted one priority level. In addition, the 40% is converted to a bonus distributed to all of the employees of the agency proportionately. If your agency returns 10% of its budget, then everyone in the agency gets a 4% bonus at the end of the fiscal year.

The idea here is that people at all levels benefit from being conscientious. I don't have a problem if the bonuses are scaled so that rank-and-file get higher percentage bonuses than upper management, but I also want upper management to get very meaningful bonuses since they are the ones in a position to establish policy and culture that encourages frugality. Perhaps some fraction is split per capita and the remainder is split per salary.

Also, an agency can't game the system to get huge bonuses every year, because the price of a big bonus is a big reduction in budget the following year and an even bigger reduction in your baseline budget.
You describe a budget procedure so simplistic and tortured that it has the charm of a mathematical formula, with the naivete of the 1960's hippie mindset. :) Before you ask, "why not?", please show me any Gov agency, small business, large business or mega business that operates that way.

It certainly could stand as its own thread but has very little to do with the App contest or any Fed/State Gov overseen STEM competitions.
 

Thread Starter

Raymond Genovese

Joined Mar 5, 2016
1,658
There will be 535 winners...one for each senator and representative. So, if only one submits from a Congressional district .... We have a winner.
It sounds like that is what they had in mind, but they could not get the contest going in every congressional district in 2017! Look at the map and the TBD status and the plea to write your congressman... and that is for 2017. What's more, this (the challenge) was started in 2014.

The major sponsor, based on logo size, is.........(drum role) Amazon Web Services. Not to mix threads, but maybe they are prepping their Whole Foods Customers of the future :).
 

WBahn

Joined Mar 31, 2012
26,398
You describe a budget procedure so simplistic and tortured that it has the charm of a mathematical formula, with the naivete of the 1960's hippie mindset. :) Before you ask, "why not?", please show me any Gov agency, small business, large business or mega business that operates that way.

It certainly could stand as its own thread but has very little to do with the App contest or any Fed/State Gov overseen STEM competitions.
I don't know that it can be any more tortured than existing government budget making processes, but you are definitely correct that it is off-topic for this thread. Apologies.
 
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